“Australia looks confused”, was legendary Shane Warne’s googly when he was asked to comment in the wake of Australia’s shock selections. In the contest between two flawed teams, Australia start as clear favorites with Starc breathing fire. He has warmed up to the event in some style by rattling a few stumps in Sheffield Shield cricket and conjuring two-hatricks in the same match in return. The ghosts of 2013 might just come back to haunt England with Starc, Hazlewood and Cummins at the forefront throwing fireballs at them.
Both sides have a strong core muscle with brittle under belly. For England to be successful, Cook will have to stall the Starc threat with some gritty batting, and also protect his young top-order. Australians normally try to attack the captain of the ship and Root will have to combat not only the Aussie pace battery but also the vocal and unsympathetic Australian media. England’s lower middle order is the stronger suit with Bairstow, Moeen and Woakes more than capable of hurting Australia. Moeen Ali will be peppered with some chin music as his weakness against the short ball is well documented. The pitches and the Kookabura will decide the fate of England’s bowling. If the new Kookaburra listen to the tunes of Anderson, Woakes and Broad then they might be able to cause some serious damage otherwise they will have to stick to discipline and focus as their main weapons.
Australia have a few demons to fight of their own. Tim Paine makes a comeback after seven years and has not kept for his domestic side, Matt Renshaw is dropped for some average domestic performances. Cameroon Bancroft gets a chance to revel in the Ashes battle and cement his name in the history of Australian cricket. Their batting looks a bit unsettled and heavily dependent of Warner and Smith.
England have their own set of problems. Ben Stokes punches off the field has already hurt England. The word is that they can’t pick him till he is cleared by the police. England will have to survive without his competitiveness and eccentricity. This is an ask in itself as they will have to fill his big boots with two players. They will also miss his personality and aggression which more than not acts as a galvanizing force. England’s problems have been compounded further with the injury to Steve Finn. His ability to extract bounce would be missed especially at the Gabba.
Can weakened England breach Australia’s fortress or even drill a hole is the million-dollar question? I would certainly be bearish about it as they have won only twice at the venue since the Second World War.
It can’t get any bigger than the Ashes for ardent cricket fans. The rivalry between England and Australia is second to none and it is almost like a mini-war played on the cricket field. England have been handicapped even before the battle has commenced as they would have liked Ben Stokes to throw a few punches at the opposition rather than in the bar.
It’s been already presumed in the Australian circles that the Ashes will witness another whitewash on Australia’s home terrain but a record of 6 wins in their last 16 is not a fear-instilling one and England will be vigilant to pounce on any complacency.
By D. Pratik